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Data glitch skews key Iowa coronavirus metrics

Dana Jones, an Iowa City nurse practitioner, said Monday that the Iowa Department of Public Health has inadvertently been reporting fewer new infections and a smaller percentage of daily positive tests than is truly the case.

Posted: Aug 17, 2020 2:07 PM

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — A state agency says it is working to fix a data error on Iowa’s coronavirus website that artificially lowers the number of new confirmed cases and therefore downplays the severity of the current outbreak.

The glitch means the Iowa Department of Public Health has inadvertently been reporting fewer new infections and a smaller percentage of daily positive tests than is truly the case, according to Dana Jones, an Iowa City nurse practitioner who uncovered the problem.

Potentially thousands of coronavirus infections from recent weeks and months have instead been erroneously recorded as having happened in March, April, May and June, Jones said Monday.

“It’s just horrifying. We have no idea what’s going on, really,” said Jones. “I don’t know how much this changes the positivity rate but it is lower on the site than it truly is in reality.”

The numbers are skewed because some people tested negative earlier but recently tested positive. Iowa’s system has been recording their new positive results as having happened on the date when their original negative results were reported.

An Iowa Department of Public Health official acknowledged the glitch in an email to Jones Friday. He said a system-generated date on which test results were reported to the state stayed the same when an individual later tested positive.

“We recognize this is a problem and have been working on logic to handle it,” wrote Rob Ramaekers, the lead epidemiologist in the department’s surveillance unit. He added: “A similar situation is happening with the percent positive calculation. We have raised the issue and are actively working on fixing it.”

Iowa’s overall number of more than 52,600 who have tested positive since March is not affected — a per capita rate that is 17th highest among states and the highest in the Midwest, according to Johns Hopkins University. But the current curve looks flatter than it should and the recent rates of positive tests are lower than they should be, Jones said.

School districts are relying on a 14-day positivity rate calculated by the state to determine whether they should reopen classrooms to students and teachers. Gov. Kim Reynolds has ordered schools to provide at least 50% in-person instruction as long as the local positivity rate is below 15% — a threshold three to five times higher than many public health experts say is safe. So far, only a handful of districts meet that threshold.

Many districts had been considering starting the year with only virtual classes because of safety concerns tied to the pandemic, but the new mandate has encouraged them to adopt hybrid plans in which students attend in-person classes part-time. Some districts have pushed back their start dates to early September and are still deciding how to proceed.

Mike Beranek, the president of the Iowa State Education Association, a union representing teachers, said Monday that school districts should put their reopening decisions on hold until the data is fully corrected.

Jones tracked the case counts released by the state daily, and was baffled in recent weeks when cases from March, April and other earlier dates were routinely added without explanation. She believes thousands of cases may have been wrongly dated.

Amy McCoy, a spokeswoman for the public health department, said she hoped to have more information about the issue soon.

The number of reported coronavirus deaths in Iowa stood at 979 on Monday, and could exceed 1,000 this week. The number of coronavirus patients hospitalized statewide, 283, is at its highest level since June 5.

Eli Perencevich, a top infectious disease researcher at the University of Iowa, said the state’s target for reopening schools is dangerously high to begin with, and the data errors only make the situation worse. He said the state’s case count was already artificially low because it excludes the results of antigen tests that some local hospitals use.

“There are a lot of small things like this that are adding up to huge things, where we are massively underestimating the cases in the state,” he said. “Both of those should be announced and corrected and cleared up immediately. There should be full accountability for this data because everyone is relying on this.”

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 604184

Reported Deaths: 7620
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1248631774
Ramsey52480895
Dakota46804470
Anoka42746458
Washington27416291
Stearns22552224
St. Louis18137312
Scott17548135
Wright16370149
Olmsted13391102
Sherburne1201295
Carver1066448
Clay825892
Rice8196110
Blue Earth762543
Crow Wing681594
Kandiyohi667885
Chisago619752
Otter Tail585884
Benton582998
Goodhue483874
Douglas475381
Mower470733
Winona461251
Itasca459263
Isanti439964
McLeod430361
Morrison424662
Nobles407950
Beltrami407561
Steele397616
Polk389072
Becker386655
Lyon363853
Carlton352756
Freeborn346932
Pine335023
Nicollet331045
Mille Lacs311654
Brown307840
Le Sueur297226
Cass286032
Todd285632
Meeker263142
Waseca238023
Martin235332
Roseau211021
Wabasha20783
Hubbard196441
Dodge18783
Renville182446
Redwood176338
Houston174616
Cottonwood167124
Wadena162823
Fillmore157410
Faribault154419
Chippewa153938
Pennington153820
Kanabec146828
Sibley146810
Aitkin138837
Watonwan13579
Rock128719
Jackson122612
Pipestone116726
Yellow Medicine114920
Pope11296
Murray107010
Swift106918
Koochiching95217
Stevens92411
Clearwater89016
Marshall88817
Wilkin83213
Lake83120
Lac qui Parle75622
Big Stone6044
Grant5938
Lincoln5843
Mahnomen5669
Norman5479
Kittson49022
Unassigned48293
Red Lake4017
Traverse3775
Lake of the Woods3453
Cook1720

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 370914

Reported Deaths: 6048
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk58232640
Linn21204339
Scott20306247
Black Hawk16119312
Woodbury15238230
Johnson1461585
Dubuque13506211
Dallas1128999
Pottawattamie11223174
Story1071448
Warren583991
Clinton561493
Cerro Gordo553593
Sioux517074
Webster515494
Muscatine4880106
Marshall486676
Des Moines467271
Wapello4337122
Buena Vista426940
Jasper421172
Plymouth402981
Lee382356
Marion366076
Jones300957
Henry294637
Bremer288261
Carroll286852
Crawford268540
Boone268434
Benton259655
Washington256751
Dickinson249344
Mahaska232351
Jackson225242
Clay216627
Kossuth216166
Tama211871
Delaware210943
Winneshiek198535
Page194522
Buchanan193733
Cedar192223
Hardin187444
Fayette186543
Wright185940
Hamilton181851
Harrison179973
Clayton171057
Butler166235
Madison164619
Mills163724
Floyd163342
Cherokee159338
Lyon158841
Poweshiek157036
Allamakee152652
Hancock150234
Iowa149824
Winnebago144531
Cass139255
Calhoun138913
Grundy137333
Emmet135841
Jefferson133435
Shelby131537
Sac130920
Union129935
Louisa129749
Appanoose129049
Mitchell126643
Chickasaw124717
Franklin123323
Guthrie123232
Humboldt119626
Palo Alto113523
Howard104922
Montgomery103638
Clarke100924
Keokuk96532
Monroe96330
Unassigned9560
Ida91535
Adair87332
Pocahontas85822
Davis85225
Monona82931
Osceola78916
Greene78011
Lucas77923
Worth7598
Taylor66812
Fremont6269
Decatur6169
Van Buren56418
Ringgold56324
Wayne54423
Audubon53411
Adams3444
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